Hong Kong Police Force said its operation to disperse the crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets fulfilled its internal guidelines, rejecting criticism that the police had used excessive force against protesters.
Police fired about 150 cans of tear gas, several shots of rubber bullets and 20 shots of bean bag bullets, during the operation on Wednesday, Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung said in a media briefing on Thursday afternoon.
Lo said the police had no choice but to use force to disperse the crowd as some “rioters” threw bricks, metal bars and barricades at the police and threatened their lives.
On Sept 28, 2014, tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters occupied key roads in Admiralty to demand universal suffrage – the right to vote – in the chief executive electoral reform. The police fired 87 cans of tear gas at the protesters. Some officers were seen taking out shotguns with rubber bullets but they did not use them.
At that time, Andy Tsang Wai-hung, the then police commissioner, was criticized for using excessive force. In May 2015, he retired from the force. He joined Chen Hsong Holdings Ltd as an adviser a year later.
Early this month, he was nominated by Beijing for the top position at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
On Thursday afternoon, Lo, Tsang’s successor, held a media briefing to explain the police operation on Wednesday.
He said the police only used low lethality weapons – batons, pepper spray, tear gas, rubber and bean bag bullets, that are common in anti-riot operations. He said police could not rule out the possibility of using live ammunition if some “rioters” use stronger weapons such as bombs.
The police have so far arrested a total of 11 people for disorderly conduct in public places, unlawful assembly, assaulting police and other riot-related crimes. Some 22 police have sustained injuries.
“We strongly condemn the violent behavior of the rioters,” said Lo, adding that officers had remained restrained and tolerant between 8am and 3pm and allowed protesters to express their opinions peacefully although they were occupying key roads in Admiralty.
Lo said the Hong Kong Police Force would not seek assistance from the People’s Liberation Army as it had sufficient manpower to finish the mission. On Wednesday, police received 19 complaints against its officers and they would investigate these cases fairly and thoroughly.
But James To Kun-sun, deputy chairman of the Legislative Council’s Panel on Security, criticized the police, saying they had used excessive force against protesters – because rubber and bean-bag shotguns were lethal weapons if they used at a short distance.
On Thursday, church groups held placards saying “Stop shooting at Hong Kong citizens” and “No violence to students” in protests in Admiralty.